Kiribati to pass a law for prospecting and mining of its sea bed minerals
In a sea bed mineral rich oceanic island state like Kiribati, as tentatively shown in the various researches that had been carried out by various scientific explorations and surveys since 1960s, the Kiribati Government has now agreed to take the very first and bold step forward, namely the enactment of a new law to be known as the Sea Bed Minerals Act 2016 that will create offices and committees with prescribed powers and put in place steps, procedures and conditions to be followed and observed by people and entities wishing to explore, prospect and extract sea bed minerals within the EEZ of Kiribati, one of the largest in the region, and at the same time provide punitive measures against those who act in contravention of such law. The Sea Bed Minerals Bill 2016 foreshadowing the abovementioned Act is expected to be a major issue for debate in the forthcoming Parliament session commencing Monday 5th December 2016. Some church and community leaders have expressed their reservations and others their total opposition against such unprecedented move, based largely on the fear that such exploratory and prospecting activities might have disastrous effects on the fragile coral ecosystem upon which the Kiribati people’s livelihood depend, but the new government under the able and popular leadership of President Taneti Maamau, elected in March this year with an overwhelming margin of about 7,000 votes over his rival, Mr. Rimeta Beniamina, is firmly convinced the vast stock of manganese nodules (estimated at 1.49 billion tonnes), cobalt , nickel and copper (estimated at 4.0 million, 6.6 million and 5.0 million tonnes respectively) in a Kiribati EEZ area of 163,000 sq. km (only about 3% of the entire EEZ) is a resource that must be utilized for the benefit of I-Kiribati people while at the same time committed to ensure that any potential harm to the island marine and ecological environment is kept at the lowest possible level.
To turn these minerals to economic use for the I-Kiribati people would require a multimillion dollar investment in technology fitted onto a specially made craft that can suck or dredge nodules and crusts lying at the bottom of a 4 to 5 km deep ocean that has the capacity to operate sustainably under such tremendous ocean pressure equivalent to one elephant balancing all its weight on a postage stamp or 50 jumbo jets sitting on a man’s shoulders.
Despite the huge investment and environmental challenges facing this initiative, the new government seems confident the economic benefits would far outweigh the costs (financial, environmental and social).
As stated in the Bill’s explanatory memorandum, the Bill seeks to establish two different bodies, the Kiribati Sea Bed Minerals Secretariat and the Kiribati Sea Bed Minerals Technical Committee to work together to achieve good decision making on licensing applications and careful monitoring and regulation of any licenses granted within Kiribati’s national jurisdiction. As it does not seek to establish a state owned enterprise to do the prospecting and mining of the minerals it can be safely assumed that private investors, foreign and local or a mix of the two are being encouraged to come up with proposals and to apply for licenses and investment in this new Kiribati “gold mine” and to operate within the legal framework set out in the Bill. Exploitation of these high value deep sea minerals is one of the many new economic ventures that the ruling party had pledged to do if allowed to rule as a creative revenue earner, among others, to help meet the huge rise in the education and social budget and the heavy copra subsidy.